Reframing 9:11


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Reframing 9:11

  1. 1. Film, Popular Culture and the “War on Terror” Jeff Birkenstein / Anna Froula / Karen Randell REFRAMING 9/11
  2. 2. SUMMARY September 11th, 2001 remains a focal point of American consciousness, a site demanding ongoing excavation, a site at which to mark before and after “everything” changed. In ways both real and intangible the entire sequence of events of that day continues to resonate in an endlessly proliferating aftermath of meanings that continue to evolve. Presenting a collection of analyses by an international body of scholars that examines America’s recent history, this book focuses on popular culture as a profound discursive site of anxiety and discussion about 9/11 and demystifies the day’s events in order to contextualize them into a historically grounded series of narratives that recognizes the complex relations of a globalized world. Essays in Reframing 9/11 share a collective drive to encourage new and original approaches for understanding the issues both within and beyond the official political rhetoric of the events of the “The Global War on Terror” and issues of national security.
  3. 3. ABOUT THE AUTHORS Jeff Birkenstein: • An Associate Professor of English at Saint Martin's University in Lacey, Washington. He teaches a range of classes – including Narratives from the Aftermath of 9/11 • Birkenstein's major interests lie in American Literature post-1865, American and world short story, the short story sequence, and cultural and food criticism. • He has published several papers in academic journals as well as book reviews, commentaries, essays and a short story. Anna Froula: • Anna Froula is an Assistant Professor of film studies at East Carolina University – she teaches courses on war literature and film, American outlaws, national mythology, and film history, theory, and fundamentals. Karen Randell: • Karen Randell is a Principal Lecturer in Film at Southampton Solent University, UK where she is Programme Leader for Film and Television. • She teaches contemporary cinema and film history and her research interests include: war genre, trauma, masculinity and early cinema.
  4. 4. • “If the attack of 9/11 seemed so much “like a movie”, then it is perhaps not so surprising that the response to 9/11 also took on a distinctly theatrical flair.” • It was cinema, and popular culture in general, that, more than anything else, helped cast the disturbing events of 9/11, and the even more disturbing events that followed, into an easily accessible, easily digestible story, one in which everyone had a role to play, as either hero or villain, good or evil, “with us” or “against us”. • The essays in this volume reveal that by analyzing popular culture we may discover not only the meaning and context on what happened on 9/11, but perhaps more importantly, how those events have permanently altered our national mythology.
  5. 5. • News media and popular culture depictions of the US reaction to terror attacks reflect a culture and collective identities steeped in marketing, popular culture, consumerism, and fear.  These depictions of fear, patriotism, consumption, and victimization contributed to the emergence of a “national identity” and collective action that was fostered by elite decision-makers’ propaganda.  The attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, were defined in the news media and popular culture as an assault on American culture, if not civilization itself. Terrorism became a perspective, an orientation, and a discourse for “our time”, the “way things are today,” and “how the world has changed.”
  6. 6. Popular Culture • Everyday life and language reflected terrorism disclaimers (e.g., “since 9/11…,” “…how the world has changed,” “…in our time,” etc.). • The tragic loss of lives and property fueled patriotic slogans, thousands of commercial advertisements, public contributions of more than $2 billion, major domestic and foreign policy changes, and the largest increase in the military budget in 35 years. • Stores sold out of flags, businesses linked advertising to patriotic slogans (e.g., General Motors’ “Keep America Rolling”), baseball fans sang “God Bless America” instead of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and children helped raise money for starving Afghani children.
  7. 7. “We need you” Journalists saw “a post-9/11 America searching for its best qualities, not its worst.” But still, many wondered if making art was relevant, or even possible, after such an event. …but, everyone was looking for ways to make sense of what happened. Americans hoped for words of comfort from their icons. In July 2002, Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” was released.
  8. 8. • “As an icon he responded to 9/11 by producing an iconic album with his similarly iconic E Street Band”. • Early in the album he offers a prayer to the rescuers who died when the building fell: May your strength give us strength, May your faith give us faith, May your hope give us hope, May your love give us love. • However, the songs are mostly desperate calls to the unanswering dead… In song after song, Springsteen’s characters look up to the sky or cry out to their loved ones, but an answer is never forthcoming. Shirts in the closet, shoes in the hall Momma’s in the kitchen, baby’s in the hall, Everything is everything, everything is everything, But you’re missing. Rise Up
  9. 9. Video Games “Like the other forms of popular culture, video games have mirrored, tracked, and questioned the dreams and nightmares that have shaken the American psyche in the wake of 9/11 – dreams and nightmares that have birthed dramatic actions in the arenas of domestic and foreign policy”
  10. 10. CINEMA • The American film industry was initially reluctant to many any films and dramatize the events of September 11th and the subsequent “War on Terror”. It took five years for any films to portray the events directly – United 93 and World Trade Center were the first ones, but neither film took a political stance. • Hollywood film since 2002 has been saturated by narratives surrounding the events of 9/11: of national pride (We Were Soldiers), critique and parody (W.), attack (Collateral Damage) and heroism (Ladder 49).
  11. 11. • Recreate the events of that day as if it were already a disaster movie. • “Very tightly connected, emotional, in the tradition of Hollywood, the tightly connected emotions of four characters. Two wives, two husbands.” • Nicolas Cage states: “I really don't want to attach politics to this movie. This movie is a triumph of the human spirit. It's about survival and it's about courage. I think trying to link it to anything else right now would take away from what the movie is really about. It's a very emotional film. It is not a downer. You walk out feeling like angels do exist. These people are heroes.” • Absence of image: makes the memory of the event much more personal. • The difficulty for Hollywood filmmakers in representing the World Trade Center disaster is that the notion of a consensus of 9/11 seems to render the image beyond the conventional models of representation. • How do you make a movie of a day that already played out like a movie? ANSWER FILM ANALYSIS Fahrenheit 9/11 World Trade Center
  12. 12. While Hollywood initially refused to explore the turbulent political aftermath of the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York directly, a diverse range of films tackled these issues through subtext and allegory, and in doing so were able to take a political stance. ALLEGORICAL FILMS
  13. 13. IN CONCLUSION • The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center unified the country behind George W. Bush, which therefore enabled the administration to attempt the enactment of its vision of a Christian, capitalist America dominating the world. • The publics reaction to 9/11 was the perfect vehicle for the promotion of these ideologies. • Public trauma enabled the Bush administration to generate a pervasive fear of terrorism, which supported worldwide expansion of American power and led to such policies as the preemptive invasion of Iraq, the detention and torture of war prisoners, and increasing indifference to the attitudes of important former allies like Germany and France. • The tendency of mass media is to define audiences as spectators – but now with the internet, cell phones and other new communications technology and programs (like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter) – new and more complex levels of interchange and consolidation are present. • “One can only hope that in the aftermath of further terrorist attacks, these new patterns of popular culture will help to control and allay the kind of hysteria and trauma that transformed the reaction to 9/11 into a justification for imperialistic war and the erosion of American democracy.”
  14. 14. “Looking well beyond the most obvious and familiar tales of contemporary terrorism and counter-terrorism to survey a twenty-first century America burdened and buoyed by a decade-long War on Terror, Reframing 9/11 offers an ambitious collection of theoretically savvy commentaries focusing on a wide array of popular texts, from zombie movies and video games to the Left Behind bestsellers and Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising. Together, these essays explore the multivocal, disturbing, and tangled legacy of 9/11 as it reverberates culturally, politically, and socially through a globally stretched and strained America.” --Gregory A. Waller, Department of Communication and Culture, Indiana University